BY BETH CLARKE AND WILL RUTT | April 11, 2019

“How do we bring this back to our school?”

Sprawled out in circles on the floors of conference rooms at the Crystal City Marriott, we have frequently used this question to ponder the thought-provoking programming of the Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice with our students.

Brophy students during a reflection session at the 2017 Ignatian Family Teach-In for Justice.

In 2016, an outgrowth of one of these conversations was the Brophy Advocacy Club. This organization, consisting of Brophy and Xavier College Preparatory (our sister Diocesan School), is student-led with a mission to design and implement advocacy campaigns in our community on behalf of the marginalized. Fair labor t-shirts dominated our first year of advocacy, but by the end of 2016, it was clear that we needed to pivot to supporting members of our community with DACA. Educating our own community about what our DACA students were facing took priority as we launched the “Dream On” campaign: we held teach-ins, we promoted students sharing their own stories as DACA recipients, we did phone banking, we made and sold (fair labor) t-shirts, and we passed out “Dream On: Brophy Supports Dreamers” stickers and buttons. We raised awareness on Brophy and Xavier’s campuses about the issues facing Dreamers, but initially, our campaign hadn’t affected much real change.

Five members of the Brophy Advocacy Club during a trip to Los Angeles, where they were invited to share their work with students at Xavier Palm Desert and Loyola High School. 

It became clear that our focus needed to shift again; or rather, it needed to narrow. In 2006, a ballot initiative in Arizona made it unconstitutional for state institutions of higher education to offer in-state tuition to non-U.S. citizens. Arizona schools largely ignored the law until a Supreme Court decision in 2018 made it impossible for the Arizona Board of Regents to continue to do so. The Advocacy Club decided this was logically and contextually the next campaign for us to take on. We held events on campus, rallying support and raising awareness, but we were stalling on our attempts to speak with senators and representatives in the state legislature. One of our Dreamers, Saul, was interning with an organization called Aliento AZ who was working towards the same goal. In meetings with their leadership, we discovered how much further along they were in engaging in direct advocacy and working with our state government. It wasn’t long before we just let them take the lead; they presented at Brophy several times and worked with all of our students on a regular basis.

250 students from Catholic and public schools gathered at Brophy to form teams prior to engaging in more than 50 legislative visits for SB 1217. 

Aliento and Brophy Advocacy Club collaborated to organize “Advocacy Education Day” in January. A week prior to Advocacy Education Day, 30 students and educators got together for a leadership training day, led by Aliento. On the day of the event, the folks who attended the training day served as small-team leads during our visits at the Capitol. 250 students from Catholic and public schools across the Valley gathered at Brophy that day to form teams and visit the Capitol together. When it was all said and done, we had inspired both Republican and Democratic senators to co-sponsor SB 1217 which would give the Arizona Board of Regents authority to set a resident tuition rate for students who had graduated from Arizona high schools regardless of their citizenship status.

Brophy students, staff, and other local advocates for SB 1217, which would give the Arizona Board of Regents authority to set a resident tuition rate for students who had graduated from Arizona high schools regardless of their citizenship status.

On February 20th of this year, SB 1217 sailed through the Senate committee on higher education. The members of the committee were obviously moved by testimony from business and community leaders. In the end, the vote in committee was almost unanimous. The bill came up for a vote in the Senate quickly and passed 18:12. The bill is currently in the House and facing some adversity. Aliento, in partnership with the business community, is working to strategically counter opposition and navigate through a complex pathway forward. There have been a number of moments where the seemingly logical step forward (to put more pressure on, send more postcards, make more phone calls, etc.) is, in fact, counterproductive and potentially harmful to the effort. Without consistent communication, and a relationship marked by a mutual trust with Aliento, we would be lost.  

Brophy student Saul Rascon Salazar testifying at the Senate committee hearing for SB1217.

Despite our respective backgrounds in community organizing and government, we knew almost nothing about state-wide advocacy. We didn’t know the intricacies of how legislation was written and heard in our state houses, and we didn’t know the players involved enough to be effective. We are also full-time teachers, not lobbyists. Partnering with outside organizations was not only efficient, but it was also highly symbiotic. Time and time again we were able to get unscheduled, impromptu meetings with our state legislators just by saying we were from Brophy—like many traditional Catholic high schools, Brophy is a power-broker in our community. Even though Aliento is a secular organization, their goals very clearly align with Catholic social teaching on immigration, and they absolutely benefitted from meeting and working with our students in their efforts. Partnering with organizations doing work aligned with Catholic social teaching provides valuable educational opportunities for our students as well as backing for these organizations. It has truly been a win-win. Through partnering with Aliento, our roles transformed—instead of trying to manufacture talking points, create an advocacy strategy, and work to stay on top of movements in the legislature, we were able to focus on empowering students to participate (many times removing institutional barriers that limited their participation) and finding creative ways for Brophy to leverage both its physical and social resources.

Advocacy Day legislative vist

There are so many opportunities for partnership. Recently, five of the senior members of the Advocacy Club were invited to Xavier Palm Desert and Loyola High School in Los Angeles to share their work. Students and faculty at both schools were curious and engaged with our work and eager to take up campaigns of their own. This provided an opportunity for our students to be affirmed in their commitment and the risks they have taken, but more importantly to invite others into this same work. We are better when we work in a community with one another, and most importantly, with our local community in each of our individual contexts.

Brophy students (r-l) Andre Bengston, Nik Kirk, Jack Kolbe, Yael Balbuena Basto, and Saul Rascon Salazar speak with peers at Loyola High School during their visit to Los Angeles.

“Followship” is a “word” that keeps reappearing as we do this work. It has been a gift to have the opportunity to follow and support Reyna Montoya and Jose Patiño as they champion undocumented students through Aliento—it has also been humbling to follow our students and to support them as they bravely advocate on their own behalf and on behalf of their friends through sharing their stories. Whether we are following the lead of folks we are directly advocating for, or we are supporting local political operatives in our community as they work for social justice, the leadership we may be being called to do in advocacy work in our Jesuit institutions may really be to prayerfully and intentionally follow. It is to leverage our place as power-brokers in our communities, kick open doors, and then get out of the way.  

1 reply

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *